MethaneSAT Taps SpaceX to Launch Methane Tracking Satellite

MethaneSAT LLC has selected SpaceX to launch a methane tracking satellite in 2022. The satellite will be capable of locating, tracking, and quantifying global methane emissions.

MethaneSAT LLC is a subsidiary of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which cites methane emissions as a major contributor to climate change. It was designing the satellite as early as April 2018, when it announced plans to develop space-based capabilities for tracking methane emissions from oil and gas facilities.

The satellite is designed to be more precise than existing instruments. The Environmental Defense Fund is also developing software to process data produced by MethaneSAT. The software will be capable of conducting complex analytics in days rather than the weeks or months it normally takes. EDF officials say that the satellite data will help combat methane emissions in target areas and hopefully reduce the most extreme effects of climate change.

“Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is the fastest, most cost-effective way we have to slow the rate of [global] warming right now, even as we continue to decarbonize the energy system. MethaneSAT is designed to create transparency and accountability to make sure companies and governments don’t miss that opportunity,” Mark Brownstein, EDF Senior Vice President for Energy, said in a statement from the Environmental Defense Fund announcing the plans to develop the satellite.

Even outside the efforts to track methane emissions, private businesses are attempting to reduce carbon emissions produced by the oil and gas industry that escape into Earth’s atmosphere. Robert Zubrin’s Pioneer Energy, Inc., has designed the Mobile Alkane Gas Separator, which can capture “flare” gas that is currently burned off in the process of extracting oil and natural gas and escapes into the atmosphere. The Mobile Alkane Gas Separator can capture that gas to have it sent to the nearest gas pipeline even if that pipeline is several miles away rather than having the gas burned off. Besides increasing the efficiency of extracting oil and natural gas, this can reduce the amount of wasted natural gas that would only be added to the total amount of methane emissions.

“The flaring issue is an imperative” when it comes to addressing the methane emission issue, Zubrin said when his system was first introduced. Robert Zubrin has often been a highly vocal critic of the inaccurate predictions of some of the most high-profile climate change activists. His book, Merchants of Despair, details his main point that these inaccurate and extreme predictions have been used to justify human rights abuses such as genocide around the world. Behind the scenes, however, he seems willing to address the issue of wasted methane being sent into Earth’s atmosphere while also acknowledging that the demand for energy is not going anywhere anytime soon. He has also said that, besides ending the oil and gas industry’s contribution to climate change, a good way to win the “War on Terror” is to move away from oil as an energy source in the book Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil.

MethaneSAT may provide the spur needed for oil and gas companies to invest in a system like the Mobile Alkane Gas Separator if they do not want to be seen as wasting valuable methane and contributing to climate change by flaring it off. The satellite is currently being constructed and is partially funded by a $100 million grant from the Bezos Earth Fund.